In Her Solo Exhibition “The Brush Of Life” Orly Shalem Explores The Feminine Side Of Abstract Painting

Orly Shalem, an Israeli artist

It is illogical and thus perhaps a bit unsettling to look at a piece of abstract art and immediately realize that it was painted by a woman. To my sensibilities, those of an old engineer, abstract art is simply paint on canvass, a physical object whose purpose is to evoke an emotional response, to be sure, but since it lacks any identifiable forms, rarely does it lead us to such unequivocal conclusions.

This discovery of the feminine origin of Orly’s art creates confusion, because so much abstract art is actually unabashedly male and even violent. When coming face to face with the iconic abstract paintings in the world’s greatest museums, one cannot help but conjure up images of men violently interacting with the canvass; attacking it with their brushes, their palettes, their hands, their entire bodies. The abstract painting is often an expression of the battle raging in the artist’s soul; it is primal, it assaults the viewer’s senses and leaves us a bit disquieted as we peel off our eyes and move on.

And then there is the mass-produced abstract “art”, the one that hangs in endless hotel corridors and whose only purpose if to break up the monotony of the beige wallpaper. There is a common misconception that it is easier to fake abstract art than realistic one. After all, how hard can it be to throw some paint on a canvass? Alas, it is this abuse of the early 20th century art form that on its centennial is giving it a bad rap.

But there is a third way, and Orly may have found it. Her abstract paintings envelope us with warmth rather than rage, with motherly compassion, rather than primal urges. Her paintings affirm life as only art that comes directly from the soul of a woman and a mother can. Because Orly is a graphic artist with decades of experience, her paintings are, above all, beautiful, and who can argue with that? In so much of the world today art follows function that as a result beauty is sorely missing from our day to day lives. When one encounters one of Orly’s large abstract paintings, it is like getting a booster shot, a daily supplement of beauty and elegance.

In Orly’s less abstract work, her drawings of flowers and her sketches with colored chalk, we see an almost childish element; they are what a young girl may see, how she may perceive the world around her, but drawn by the steady hand of an accomplished and experienced graphic artist.

In our world today, when the word “gender” is often used as a battle cry for the war between the sexes, Orly’s feminine and even motherly consciousness is a refreshing breath of fresh air, a sorely needed reminder that all humans have mothers that we all need love and compassion and above all beauty in our lives, no matter how often we are told otherwise.

Orly’s work can be found at the lobby of the Frishman Tower 46 in Tel Aviv, where 28 large abstract paintings that she has recently completed are on display. The exhibition will be open until the end of June and can be visited every weekday from 10:00 to 22:00. For more information about the artist and to view her other work, please visit her website:


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